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Community-designed park opens on Orkney

Sustrans Scotland’s Places for Everyone and ArtRoots programmes have helped fund the creation of Arcadia Park, a place where local users can walk, wheel, cycle, and spend time outdoors.

Arcadia Park is a new community-designed green space and active travel network in Kirkwall, Orkney.

Built on what was previously a section of underused land adjacent to Balfour Hospital, the project sought to transform the area into a place where local residents can take time out and relax.

The new park provides somewhere that can be used for walking, wheeling, cycling, and spending time outdoors.

The project officially opened on the 24th September 2022.

A place to unwind

The Arcadia Park project has created a peaceful place where local people can exercise, switch off and connect with the natural environment in Orkney’s largest town.

The 33,000 square metre site is now home to ponds, wildflower meadows, woodland and sculpture.

These features are all connected by a network of accessible active travel routes, enabling people of all ages and abilities to enjoy the space.

The day-to-day management of the park is undertaken by a group of volunteers from Arcadia Community Park Group.

Arcadia Park is a new community-designed green space and active travel network in Kirkwall. Credit: Sustrans 2022.

Inspiration behind the project

The project stemmed from the aspirations of a local community group to transform an area of open space opposite the new Balfour Hospital in Kirkwall. 

Orkney Alcohol Counselling and Advisory Service (OACAS) took up a maintenance agreement with Orkney Islands Council for the site in 2017.

OACAS aimed to use the space to rehabilitate young offenders by providing opportunities to develop horticultural skills in partnership with Orkney College UHI.

In 2018, Orkney Island Council founded the Your Kirkwall initiative – an engagement project to create a community led vision for the future of the town. 

OACAS contributed their ideas for the plot, emphasising the potential to connect the new hospital with residential areas and future development land located nearby via an inclusive, all-abilities path.  

Arcadia Park has been built on what was previously a section of underused land adjacent to Balfour Hospital. Credit: Sustrans 2022.

Overcoming challenges

In 2020 the project faced a significant challenge when OACAS went into liquidation. 

This caused some uncertainty around the future of Arcadia Park.

However, those involved were determined to see it succeed.

The key contact from OACAS and the landscape architect who carried out the design work set up the Arcadia Community Park Group later that year. 

The group continues to go from strength to strength and today oversees the day-to-day management of the park.

ArtRoots involvement

The Places for Everyone funded developments concluded in early 2021.

In April that year, Arcadia Community Park Group applied for funding for an ArtRoots project to further enhance the space.

The application was for a new sculpture and wildflower planting to complement the trees and grassy areas.

The design was created based on ideas submitted from children at the local schools – a meteorite which lands in the park and becomes home to a family of Orcadian Voles.

A local storyteller then created a story to go with the sculpture.

The 33,000 square metre site is now home to ponds, wildflower meadows, woodland and sculpture. Credit: Sustrans 2022.

Landscaping took place to create a crater with the meteor at its centre.

Paths throughout the park lead to the sculpture, making it a focal point of the site.

An end result to be proud of

Arcadia Park officially opened in September 2022 at a launch event attended by over 100 people including local residents, partners and Sustrans representatives. 

At the launch, local residents reflected on the difference Arcadia Park has made to the community.

“The park has opened up an area that was previously just a boggy scrub.”

“It has provided a quiet place to relax, and somewhere that children can walk and learn to ride their bikes away from the busy roads”.

“The new route is now a popular way to travel between the residential areas and the town centre.”

Local resident, Kirkwall

Michael Harvey, Senior Project Officer at Sustrans, reflected the positivity about the completed project, stating:

“We are so excited to see the completion of the Arcadia Park project, and to hear about the difference it has already made to the local community we have worked closely with.”

“These works have delivered a quiet space where everybody living in the area can unwind outdoors, as well as safely travelling in and around Kirkwall.”

“Routes such as this are such an important step into empowering more people to walk, wheel, and cycle.”

Michael Harvey, Senior Project Officer, Sustrans

Arcadia Community Park Group is now applying for additional funding to provide wooden signs and notice boards.

They are also looking to develop a plant nursery to give local students the opportunity to develop their horticultural skills.